Teacher Diana Millios works with elementary school students who are wizards with the word processor, the personal computer and the hand-held calculator but have yet to learn to tie their shoes. These children have dismissed this benchmark skill because their shoes don't tie, they stick, with Velcro strips instead of laces.
The ubiquitous Velcro shoe is one of many technological developments transforming the world of little children, requiring them to learn new skills and allowing them to discard others.
Among the second-grade set, for example, digital watches have replaced the traditional round-faced timekeeper of another generation.
"You don't have to take the time to get the time, you just look at it and say the numbers out," said 7-year-old Jacylyn Robinson, a student at Arrowhead Elementary School in Prince George's County, where Millios is a reading specialist. "That's why my dad bought me a digital watch. He thought I wouldn't get upset at the watch and tear it up because I wouldn't be able to tell the time."
Millios and other teachers say that progress is fine, but kids still need to learn skills like tying shoes and telling time.
"I hate to sound like Grandma Moses," said Millios, who has been teaching for 16 years. "I guess digital watches are easier, but they [pupils] don't learn . . . all those things I think are important."
Telling time on an analog clock helps children learn the concept of fractions, teachers say. Tying shoes teaches eye-hand coordination. But most important, in the minds of educators, is that children learn basic math before they rely on calculators and computers to do their figuring for them.
For these high-tech children, however, ease is the criteria by which watches and other possessions are judged. Jason Hairston, a second-grader at Arrowhead, prefers Velcro shoes because "they stay tight and you can get them on faster."
First-grader Christopher Bell favors a computer over pencil and paper for his math problems, he said, because "the paper can't do anything."
Arrowhead teacher Phyllis Cubbage, who has taught for 31 years, has seen many trends come and go. While children may be losing the history of the clock and the ability to tie shoes, she said, "they've also lost the whole concept of the outhouse -- I mean, those were the days."